The truth is, I haven’t saved the world yet. I thought by now that maybe I would have. Even worse, I still eat the same thing for breakfast every morning (Grape-Nuts), and I’m constantly running out of quarters for laundry. This wasn’t really what I had in mind two years ago when I graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. I was thinking more noble adventure, more I just singlehandedly ended injustice in America. But maybe all those adages weren’t true: You can do anything if you set your mind to it. The world is your oyster.
In order to pursue my dream of saving the world, I joined St. Hilda’s House in New Haven, Conn. as a part of the Episcopal Service Corps , where I lived in intentional community with six other 20-somethings and worked at a homeless shelter. This meant sitting down with tenants living in the shelter and helping them write cover letters and resumes and apply for jobs. I soon realized that I had underestimated the barriers my clients faced (inadequate childcare and transportation, the lack of high school diplomas and “the right connections”), and overestimated my abilities as a 23-year-old who had every good intention, but no experience, and so much more to learn than she thought she did. So few tenants were able to find jobs, despite my help, and my hopes for saving the world were soon replaced with an understanding of my own helplessness.
Cue quarter life crisis. I was trying, but so far I was still eating Grape-Nuts every morning, and my tenants still didn’t have jobs. They still didn’t have homes. They still faced injustice based on the color of their skin and lack of resources. I was young, naive, and from a Midwestern college town where life seemed a lot less complicated. Now I was in an urban environment, and though I couldn’t ignore the poverty and injustice that surrounded me, I also couldn’t seem to do anything about it. Maybe God had a great plan for my life, and I was just too inadequate to follow it.
When I brought these fears home to my housemates, I realized that they shared them too. My housemate who also worked at a homeless shelter, visiting clients in their camps, worried that she couldn’t do anything to change the futures of men who faced long histories of mental illness and addiction. My housemate who brought meals to HIV+ clients felt helpless in the face of the loneliness and despair that often came with poor health and being homebound.
We had all failed. At first this seemed like a bad thing, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a blessing. Wasn’t this the point of intentional community? We failed, but we failed together, and when we came home feeling sad and inadequate, we had someone to talk to who really understood. In the end, our failure was, I believe, one of the biggest ways we grew as a community. We learned to rely on each other.
Around that time, I began to reflect back one of my favorite Bible verses, Micah 6:8: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Yes, we were supposed to act justly, but there was no world-saving requirement in there. Maybe realizing that I couldn’t save the world was actually me doing a better job of walking humbly. Maybe acting justly and loving mercy looked a lot less like saving the world, and more like seeing people as individuals who should be showed love and kindness on a daily basis. My housemates and I were all trying to do that.
After finishing up my service corps, I can now look back and say that discovering my inability to save the world was one of the biggest blessings of that year. I am a more humble and peace-filled person with a greater understanding of what it means to be one person in a community that works for social justice. We fail often, but we don’t fail alone. I still don’t have all the answers, but for now I’m looking forward to relying more on God and other people and going through an exceptional amount of quarters and Grape-Nuts in the process.